All over St. Louis and its suburbs during the 20th century, thousands of homes kept bugs out of the basement by adopting a box turtle. A pet in many homes, and a cricket-killing workhorse in others, some folks rescued and rehomed one of the reptiles crossing the street, while many “magically” appeared on their own.
A Google search for “basement turtles” will bring you to a legacy Reddit thread that appears to be the definitive resource on the topic. Reading through the contributions from residents of St. Louis and the surrounding areas, you’ll see that it is a bygone practice: most of the stories are second-hand from the children and grandchildren of mid-century St. Louis homeowners. Very few people in St. Louis have maintained the practice of keeping a basement turtle. However, there are still some.
Bringing the subject up in casual conversation (something we recommend) we discovered a grandma in Tower Grove South who still has a basement turtle. The turtle’s name is Beau, and she lives off basement bugs, lettuce, and sometimes the cat’s milk. She has resided in the house longer than her caretaker’s own children did. When Grandma goes outside to garden, she opens the basement door so Beau can roam the yard with her.
Though we did manage to obtain visual proof of Beau’s taste for the cat’s milk, in the form of a single pixel captured through Grandma’s turn-of-the-century camera phone, we thought it important to preserve our new friend’s privacy and instead commissioned the portrait below for your enjoyment.
If Beau’s story doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, we encourage you to take a few minutes to peruse the Reddit thread. While the stories from those whose relatives had a basement turtle are told very matter-of-factly, many commenters’ disbelief is apparent. It is fascinating how even something silly like a basement turtle story can garner such contrasting reactions. Completely unremarkable to some, others are utterly baffled by the thought. The Reddit thread interestingly reveals differences in intergenerational points of view.
Basement turtles are just one example of a quirk in the rich history of the place we live in. St. Louis is a fascinating city, steeped in tradition and history yet ripe with progress and innovation, from the Apotheosis to the World’s Largest Chess Piece. The simultaneous familiarity and bafflement of the basement turtle custom represents a microcosm of a phenomenon that can occur on a larger scale when we forget to indulge in the true nuance of life, whether we abandon our roots in pursuit of novelty or become entrenched in our past to the point of stagnation.
Even though our home in St. Louis is familiar, it is remarkable. So, we’re going to keep discovering it because we’re captivated by it. If you don’t see what we see, check your basement—you might be surprised by what you find.